Color, 1987, 99m.
Directed by Nathan J. White
Starring Gregory Fortescue, Stevie Lee, Steve Dixon, Paul Silverman, Paul Urbanski
Code Red (US R0 NTSC)

This movie is insane! Shot in Michigan at the height of the direct-to-VHS horror boom in the late '80s, The Carrier snuck onto tape with a nondescript cover courtesy of Magnum but managed to astonish the luckly few adventurous souls who bothered to rent it out for an evening. In a small town called Sleepy Rock apparently stuck in some sort of alternate universe of the 1950s, young man Jake Spear (Fortescue) escapes an attack from a strange beast from the woods. Though he seems unharmed, Jake is horrified to discover that he has acquired a highly unusual contagion that contaminates any object he touches and dissolves anyone else who makes contact with it. Soon the entire town is in a panic, unaware that Jake is the source of their problem as these "red objects" (named become a source of terror that can only be exposed by using cats(!) as weapons to identify them. Clad in plastic and heavy cloth, the townspeople soon divide into two warring factions that threaten to destroy the entire community forever.

Considering the era of its release, you don't have to look too hard to find an AIDS allegory here; the weird plot turn that covers almost everyone in trash bags for the duration of the films only lacks a glove-wearing dental hygienist to drive the full message home here. On top of that you also get plenty of blatant religious symbolism (just check out the final shots), but all that's easy to miss when everyone's running around yelling about red objects and demanding "cats or death!" It's definitely unique though, and one-shot direct Nathan J. White certainly knows how to generate a resonant moment or two out of daylight horrors. No one in the main cast went on to much else, but Forescue makes for an engaging, sympathetic lead; more interestingly, as this was shot around the same stomping grounds from The Evil Dead, it features some of the same names behind the camera including composer Joseph LoDuca, cinematographer Peter Deming, and even some funky sound work from Bruce Campbell! If you approach this as a funky, David Lynch-style satire with strong horrific elements, it's quite a rewarding film hiding out there behind the dull cover art.

Originally released in America on VHS by Magnum, The Carrier went out of circulation for many years but remained a minor cult item among avid tape swappers. Code Red's release offers a moderate step up in picture quality considering this was really aimed at the home video market from the beginning; the full frame, interlaced transfer still has that gauzy '80s patina about it but at least bumps up the clarity a few notches without any nasty VHS distortion. Keep your expectations in check and watch this for the wild movie itself, not the A/V presentation. The biggest extra here is an amusing audio commentary with director White and frequent Code Red commentator Scott Spiegel, who knows a thing or two about the Michigan '80s horror scene thanks to co-writing Evil Dead 2 and directing Intruder. The interpretive aspects of the film aren't really touched on much here, with a focus instead on how the financing and production came about, which Raimi vets came aboard and why, and how all the actors and extras were rounded up to swath themselves in outfits you normally don't see outside of Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer. Also included are the theatrical trailer and the usual host of Code Red bonus previews like The Redeemer, Nightmare, and Slithis. Give this one a shot; it might become your next favorite unsung treasure, and it's certainly like nothing else you've ever seen before.